Franklin County commissioner halts move to fire administrator

PASCO, Wash. — It looks like Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson will keep his job. On Tuesday, County Commissioner Rocky Mullen reversed course after wanting to fire Johnson last week.

“I move that we terminate the employment contract with the county administrator, Keith Johnson, effective immediately,” Mullen announced during the April 6 county commissioners meeting.

“I’ll second that motion with discussion,” said Commissioner Clint Didier.

“You let Mr. Johnson go, good luck finding someone as competent and capable and credentialed,” Commissioner Brad Peck countered.

“Could I get the benefit of an explanation?” Johnson asked at the meeting, expressing surprise at the sudden motion after five years at the helm.

“I feel that things are happening in the county that are not being shared, or at least not being shared with me,” Mullen explained.

Johnson countered that he shouldn’t have to explain to Mullen — a commissioner of three months — how to do his job. He also took Mullen and Didier to task for concentrating on a resolution supporting the 2nd Amendment instead of taking up pressing issues such as the Easterday cattle scandal.

“We’ve had the biggest fraud in Franklin County take place in the last six weeks that we’ve learned about. We haven’t talked about that once, and the impact on the local farming and ag community — that issue alone is going to have a bigger impact on the economy of Franklin County than all of COVID has for the last year,” Johnson said.

Today, Mullen said he’d changed his mind about wanting to fire Johnson. Mullen asked for the floor and read a statement during the meeting.

“I reached out to Mr. Johnson immediately after Tuesday’s meeting and met with Mr. Johnson the following morning,” Mullen said today. “It is my desire that all of us work together in unity.”

Commissioner Peck shook Commissioner Mullen’s hand in thanks for reconsidering his earlier position. Commissioner Didier then steered the meeting on to other business.

KAPP-KVEW reached out to the commissioners and administrator. Mr. Johnson gave us this statement:

“I genuinely appreciate the outpouring of support I’ve received concerning my employment with Franklin County from the many citizens and civic leaders who I’ve interacted with over the past 5 years, particularly those who took the time to come to the courthouse and address the commissioners directly.  Despite the challenging circumstances, I enjoy and am committed to work hard for Franklin County and our partners in the Tri-Cities region.  I appreciate Commissioner Mullen’s support and I will work to improve my dialogue with each of the commissioners on important county matters.”